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Rare comet will make its closest approach to Earth today

A newly discovered comet could be visible to the naked eye as it shoots past the Earth and the Sun for the first time in 50,000 years. The comet is called C/2022 E3 (ZTF) after the Zwicky Transient Facility, which first discovered it passing between Jupiter in March, 2022.

Today, on February 1, C/2022 E3 will make its closest approach to Earth before possibly leaving our solar system forever. From cities such as Atlanta and New York, the comet will be visible for most of the night because it is circumpolar, which means it is permanently above the horizon.

The comet is made of ice and dust emitting a greenish aura, and has a diameter of nearly a kilometer. According to scientists, provided that the night sky is not too illuminated by city lights or the Moon, it will be easy to spot with a pair of binoculars or even with the naked eye. Although this comet is smaller than others that passed the Earth – such as NEOWISE in March 2020 or Hale-Bopp in 1997 – the fact that it will come closer to our planet will make it more visible.

Its origins are most likely the Oort Cloud, a theorized vast sphere surrounding the Solar System, and the last time it passed the Earth was during the Upper Paleolithic period. Since then, it has spent most of its life “at least 2,500 times more distant than the Earth is to the Sun,” according to Thomas Prince, a professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology.

Although scientists believe that its next visit to our planet’s vicinity may be in yet another 50,000 years, there is also the possibility that it will be permanently ejected from the solar system.

People from the Northern Hemisphere had the best chance to spot this comet in the last week of January, when it passed between the Ursa Minor and Ursa Major constellations. Another opportunity to see it shoot through the sky will come on February 10, when it passes close to Mars.

This “rare visitor” will give “us information about the inhabitants of our solar system well beyond the most distant planets,” Prince concluded.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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